THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE
Kerry More Inclusive on Ties Abroad
Democrat's foreign policy advisors stress cooperation but aren't shy about military force.By Ronald Brownstein
Times Staff Writer
April 11, 2004
WASHINGTON — John F. Kerry is assembling a network of foreign policy advisors more hawkish than most Democrats but more skeptical of military solutions in the struggle against terrorism than the team surrounding President Bush.
Kerry is consulting across a broad ideological range of Democratic opinion — to the point where some party thinkers worry he is not defining a sufficiently distinctive vision of how America should pursue its goals in the world.
But insiders believe those with the most influence on the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee tend to be advisors who support the forceful use of military power, including in Iraq, yet place a much higher priority than Bush and his team on maintaining support among allies.
Early speculation about who might serve as Kerry's secretary of State centers mostly on candidates who fit that description: Richard C. Holbrooke and Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, former top officials in the Clinton administration; Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee; and, more distantly, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), whose commitment to traditional alliances now places him much closer to the center of thinking in the Democratic Party than the Republican Party.
"I think the mantra of the Democratic thinkers is, 'Together if possible, alone if absolutely necessary,' " said James P. Rubin, a former senior Clinton official who is joining the Kerry campaign as a top foreign policy advisor.
"That's a key difference between the Bush foreign policy and the Democratic foreign policy: Do you get enough benefit out of the [argument for] international legitimacy and burden-sharing in order to justify adjustments in tactics and timing in what you are trying to achieve? More often than not, [Democrats think] the answer is yes. Clearly, in Iraq, the answer should have been yes."
The common assumptions among the Democrats advising Kerry contrast with the dominant views in the Bush team, not just on the value of alliances but on many other fronts. One of the most important distinctions involves the risks America faces.
While the Bush team tends to see the greatest danger in "rogue regimes" such as the three nations the president identified as the "axis of evil," many Democrats place more emphasis on problems rooted in forces beyond the control of any state or government, such as the spread of militant Islamic ideology or the growth of Al Qaeda.
The foreign policy team coalescing around the Massachusetts senator has drawn little attention but could shape the interactions between a President Kerry and the world as much as the candidate's own pronouncements on the campaign trail.
Surrounded by a team mostly committed to the aggressive projection of American power, Bush, for instance, has pursued a far more confrontational approach than he indicated in the 2000 campaign when he called for a "humble" foreign policy.
For all the shared foreign policy views among the Democrats Kerry has consulted, many questions remain about how he would fill in the details — and who he would ask to do so if he won. While many believe he listens most to the tough-minded internationalists such as Biden and Holbrooke, he hasn't formally identified an inner circle of advisors considered favorites for the top foreign policy jobs.
The roster of senior national security advisors his campaign touts — including Madeleine Albright and William Perry, secretary of State and Defense, respectively, under Clinton — strikes many Democratic experts as largely generic.
Some insiders say many names in the group have had little role in the campaign. Only a few, such as former Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), have long-standing ties to Kerry.
Adding to the uncertainty over Kerry's direction, the campaign has effectively delegated the process of defining foreign policy alternatives to Bush on many issues to the Alliance for American Leadership, a Democratic group that organizes task forces of party thinkers on world affairs.
Kerry, after serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 19 years, has placed much less emphasis on identifying a formal team of foreign policy gurus than candidates Clinton in 1992 or Bush in 2000.
As governors with limited experience in world affairs, both men wanted to buttress their foreign policy credentials by conspicuously associating themselves with experienced and reassuring figures.
At the outset of his campaign, Clinton met with Democratic foreign policy thinkers in a series of dinners organized partly by Berger, who went on to serve as his national security advisor. Beginning in early 1999, nearly two years before he was elected, Bush convened regularly with a group assembled by Condoleezza Rice and Paul D. Wolfowitz. Almost everyone in the group, which dubbed itself the "Vulcans," obtained senior foreign policy positions in his administration.
Probably the closest analogue to Bush's Vulcans has been a group of Kerry advisors who hold a weekly conference call directed by Rand Beers, the campaign's national security and homeland security coordinator.
That group has included Lee Feinstein, the former deputy director of policy planning at the State Department, and Joseph C. Wilson IV, the former diplomat whose report to the CIA challenged Bush's claim that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa.
Kerry routinely consults other foreign policy thinkers as well — ranging from Biden, Berger and Holbrooke, a veteran diplomat whose most recent post was as Clinton's U.N. ambassador, to Gregory B. Craig, a Washington attorney and former State Department official who first met Kerry as an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) 20 years ago.
Those personal connections, not to mention the wide-ranging views on foreign policy Kerry has expressed over the years, leave Beers spending less time formulating basic foreign policy positions and more helping the candidate respond to immediate events and refine his message on international affairs.
"John Kerry has a foreign policy developed over 20 years or longer," Beers said. "I had no illusion I was coming in to design 'Gov. Kerry's' foreign policy. I am here to help John Kerry get elected."
Beers himself typifies the campaign's faintly improvisational feel on foreign policy.
Most observers considered the Kerry campaign's signing of Beers last May a major coup: Beers had served every president since Richard Nixon and had resigned only weeks before from the White House's top counterterrorism job under Bush (the same position earlier held by Richard Clarke). Beers quit in protest over the war in Iraq, which he said he believed would weaken the struggle against Al Qaeda.
But Beers said he had never met or spoken with Kerry before accepting his position as the campaign's top foreign policy official.
"I met him the end of May, the beginning of June," Beers said. He came to the campaign largely through a contact with a former Kerry aide who served under Beers in the Clinton State Department.
Another measure of the campaign's unusually unstructured foreign policy process is the decision to enlist the Alliance for American Leadership to develop potential ideas on international affairs, rather than assembling its own teams. That group, founded by Marc Ginsberg, a centrist Democrat and former Clinton ambassador to Morocco, has organized party foreign policy thinkers to advise Democratic candidates since the 2000 election.
"We came to the view that we would rather have a range of opinion from which to select without having it identified as 'Kerry thinking,' " Beers said.
History suggests that "range of opinion" can shape a new president's foreign policy as much as the specific ideas the candidate advances during the campaign.
One key reason Bush has pursued a more conservative foreign policy than his father, George H.W. Bush, is that the framework of debate within the Republican Party on international issues has moved to the right over the last decade with the rise of neoconservatives like Wolfowitz.
Kerry's foreign policy team is also operating in an environment of intellectual change that would inevitably shape his presidency if he won.
Even though the party divided over invading Iraq, most of the Democrats likely to fill key positions in a Kerry administration are more comfortable using American force than their equivalents a decade, or certainly two decades, ago. In that sense they continue an evolution, already apparent during the Clinton years, beyond the reluctance to commit American forces abroad common among Democrats for years after Vietnam.
Potential secretaries of State Biden and Holbrooke, for instance, were leading advocates of military intervention against Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic during the 1990s; Biden and Holbrooke were also far more forceful than most Democrats in arguing that Bush had authority to invade Iraq last year without a second U.N. resolution explicitly authorizing an attack.
Yet each, like Berger, has repeatedly argued that Bush made a critical miscalculation by failing to build more international support for the Iraq invasion — and for America's international policies more generally.
Leading Democratic thinkers have argued for months that Bush must cede more authority over Iraq's reconstruction to the U.N., both to restore the effort's credibility inside Iraq and to improve the odds that other nations will commit troops.
Biden describes this overall balance as a "reasoned nationalism" which values international alliances but recognizes the U.S. at times will have to act without U.N. sanction in "the clear instance of a violation of international rules" — whether it's ethnic slaughter in Kosovo or Saddam Hussein's evasions of U.N. resolutions demanding disarmament.
Republicans see these views as evidence the Democratic team would defer more than Bush to international opinion — and thus hesitate about using force when needed to protect American security.
"I don't think they would be as aggressive," said one senior GOP strategist familiar with White House thinking. "They would defer much more to multilateral institutions and the views of the world."
But like Kerry, many leading Democratic foreign policy thinkers insist the U.S. now needs a network of allies more than ever because it faces so many challenges that are themselves decentralized and diffuse: environmental change, disease and, especially, terrorism.
That conviction highlights the tendency of the analysts clustering around Kerry to place somewhat less emphasis than the Bush team on "outlaw regimes" and greater priority on "stateless" threats.
Even Democrats who supported the Iraq invasion, for instance, generally view it as tangential to the war on terrorism, while Bush and his advisors consider it a centerpiece.
Biden says most Democrats Kerry consults "believe international terrorist organizations are capable of existing without state sponsorship" while most administration officials believe Al Qaeda "cannot survive" without help from rogue regimes.
"That's why they argue that if we don't battle them in Baghdad, we will battle them in Boston," Biden said. "Does anybody believe if we settled everything in Iraq, there wouldn't be any more orange alerts?"
None of these differences are absolute. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush team has focused more on "stateless" challenges; Kerry advisors, meanwhile, acknowledge the U.S. must firmly pressure states like North Korea or Iran, which are thought to be developing weapons of mass destruction.
And for all the Democratic emphasis on multilateral cooperation, many of the key figures around Kerry staunchly supported the Kosovo war that Clinton launched with support from NATO but not approval by the U.N.
"The next time a Democratic administration is in, the Europeans are going to have to face the reality that the U.S. was a lot more unilateral before 2001 than they remember," said James Mann, author of "Rise of the Vulcans," a new history of Bush's foreign policy team.
Still, even if many of the distinctions between the Bush and Kerry teams are matters of degree, the differences remain wide enough to guarantee clearly contrasting approaches to the world.
Bush's team, partly because it includes so many senior figures that served in the Pentagon at some point in their career, remains more likely than Kerry's advisors to see military solutions to security threats, Mann said.
Kerry's team may be more likely than previous generations of Democrats to turn to the military. But they are still more inclined than the Bush advisors to see military force as only one arrow in a quiver that includes diplomacy, foreign aid and economic ties — what one leading Democratic thinker has called "soft power."
In an election where voters may weigh national security more than in any campaign since 1980, Democrats agree the political challenge is to convince Americans their approach won't only improve the nation's image abroad, but its security at home.
"I think that Democrats can make foreign policy a net plus for us in this election if we can convince the American people that we are both tough and smart," said Rubin, an advisor who just joined Kerry's team.
"Tough on terrorists, tough on the states that take actions that are unacceptable, but also smart enough to understand that problems that will come home to bite the American people won't always come in the form of state-sponsored activities."